New Study Shows That Collaboration With Online Communities Is Increasingly Important for Corporate Reputation and Brand Management

IT-enabled online collaboration, particularly with online communities, is increasingly important for corporate reputation and brand management, according to a new Economist Intelligence Unit study.

The Verizon-sponsored study, “Dangerous liaisons: How businesses are learning to work with their new stakeholders,” surveyed senior executives worldwide on their views of how an emerging group of non-traditional stakeholders is impacting corporate reputation. According to the study, published Wednesday June 9), 78 percent of the respondents say that interaction with special-interest groups, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) or citizen groups is important to their business, while 33 percent say that online communities will be their most important category of “non-traditional stakeholder” in five years.

An evolving group of Internet-protocol-enabled collaborative solutions — which include voice-over-IP (VoIP), presence-enabled applications, converged fixed-mobile communications, online white boarding, team workspaces, blogs, podcasts and wikis — are increasingly responsible for empowering non-traditional stakeholder groups. These collaboration solutions are enabling a new, borderless enterprise environment, and facilitate new dialogue streams between the corporate and public (or private) worlds.

The study by the EIU — the business information arm of The Economist Group, publisher of The Economist — shows that the successful integration of these new communication streams into corporate collaborative efforts is increasingly critical if organizations are to survive and thrive.

Using Technology to Enable the Social Enterprise

To help businesses in their efforts to engage new stakeholder groups in an IP-enabled world, Verizon Business offers the following recommendations:

  --  Square the risk contradiction. Business is built around complex, but
highly adaptive systems, and there is a fundamental contradiction in
the risk comparison between data loss for an individual engaging with
social media (where data is freely given into the public domain) and
the corporate user (who holds the trust and personal data of numerous
clients). Business therefore needs to create a fabric of trust in
which the social ecosystem can thrive, balancing the need for
information control with the opportunity these new stakeholders
-- Reassess business infrastructure. The public social space is built
around an open, rich multimedia environment, which users expect to be
replicated in the enterprise social world. This puts significant
demands on corporate bandwidth, and storage and backup capabilities.
Emerging Everything-as-a-Service delivery models can help businesses
transform their infrastructures to meet these challenges.
-- Remember the importance of the relationship. Establishing a trusted
relationship is critically important if organizations are to
successfully engage with new stakeholders in the online world. And in
business, there are many ways and many levels in which relationships
are built and succeed. Social media communications need to run
alongside traditional communications to build relationships.
-- Maximize the corporate knowledge base. Internal communications can
also be transformed by collaborative solutions, enabling the
corporation to maximize the collective brainpower of its employees in
the service of the company. And with employees fully engaged, the
corporation can build a team of ambassadors able to interact with all
other stakeholders, and forge new and successful relationships.

Kerry Bailey, chief marketing officer for Verizon Business, said: “Online communities, enabled by social media tools, are having a transformational effect on enterprise communication, enabling stakeholders to access multiple information points on demand, choose their influencers and build global communities of engagement quickly and simply, and outside traditional corporate boundaries. Our survey shows that corporations are now beginning to understand the importance of these new communities, and their influence on corporate success, but that there is still a way to go to establish a balanced environment where online stakeholders can be fully engaged in corporate communication.”

Bringing New Stakeholders to the Attention of the Board of Directors

Business already knows the importance of collaboration and the role that technology plays in driving its effectiveness. A study conducted by Frost and Sullivan,(1) commissioned by Verizon and Cisco, showed that not only is collaboration a key driver of business performance, but also that companies can realize a significant return by using advanced, IP-enabled collaboration tools to boost performance.

However, the new EIU study points out that collaboration with these new stakeholders is still rarely taken into strategic consideration by a company’s board of directors, limiting positive potential outcomes. This could be due to perceived risk — some 43 percent of respondents see reputation damage as a potential risk in dealing with online communities, and 38 percent say the same in regard to NGOs and civic groups. Another concern is information-flow control – in particular, preventing the release of confidential or inaccurate information and protecting intellectual property. However, 42 percent of survey respondents agree that online social networks are becoming the most effective means of communicating with new stakeholder groups.

Bailey concluded: “We know that collaboration is most effective when used in support of business goals, and this applies equally when dealing with traditional and non-traditional stakeholders. Eventually it’s all about the creation of trust, enabled by ecosystems in which wisdom and knowledge can survive and thrive. Where IP-enabled tools are deployed well, and an organization builds engagement with all its stakeholders into its business goals, more positive business impacts can be achieved.”

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